Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Politics of Favoritism

The New York Times had a recent article on earmarks being inserted into the current healthcare legislation. It made me reflect on how our culture has come to accept political payoffs being brokered by those who represent us in Congress.

The story covers the specific accommodations made by certain Senators to individuals and organizations within their jurisdictions. It also highlights the efforts of Senator Orrin Hatch to get an amendment passed that would favor medical insurance plans in the state of Utah.

Senator Hatch’s amendment is a “tongue in cheek” effort to point out the arbitrary nature of some sections of the legislation. However, it is characterized by the New York Times as just another quirky effort by an out-of-touch Republican Senator. You have to get past that characterization to continue with the story.

The heart of the article is the disclosure of the manner in which earmarks are placed within legislation. It shows how the beneficiaries are not explicitly named. Rather, they are designated by a specific event that pertains to them, and them alone.

Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, has a provision for more favorable Medicare rates to a medical facility in his home state of Nevada. The facility is the Nevada Cancer Institute, but it is not transparently named as such in the legislation. Instead, it is referenced as a facility “designated on June 10, 2003, as the official cancer institute of its state.” The National Cancer Institute could have designated any institute within any of our 50 states on that date, but (surprisingly!) there was only one, and it was in the state of Nevada.

And so a specific facility in a specific state receives preferential treatment from our federal government. Senator Hatch is criticized for trying to direct federal funds to his state; Senator Reid is begrudgingly celebrated for his expertise in working the legislative system to favor certain benefactors.

America’s culture is changing in tone. Our laws still protect individuals, but our politics accommodate favoritism. The idea of fairness is no longer a “given.” You must pay into the political system, either with time or money. If you don’t realize that, you risk being characterized as na├»ve.

It saddens me, this change in our culture. I still like the idea of America being the land of opportunity. It is unsettling that we so often see special favors being traded between the elite and powerful in our country, while the rest of us are left on the sidelines as “props.”

America will survive, but you have to wonder why, in aggregate, we no longer care about the “soul” of our country.

UPDATE 11/20/2009:
Senator Reid has designated $100 million in taxpayer money to assure a vote for his healthcare bill from Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.  ABC News' Jonathan Karl has the story.

It's as though taxpayers have given a Medical Power of Attorney to Congress, and Senators are using it to bribe one another.

UPDATE 11/24/2010:
Forbes has an article by Richard Epstein that looks at the recent spate of legislative waivers.  We see this with the current health care legislation.  Waivers, like earmarks, are another example of political favoritism.  The ideal for our representative form of government is legislation that stands on its own merits, without the necessity of waivers or earmarks for political identity groups.

UPDATE 12/2/2010:
Andrew Breitbart's Big Government has a post by J. Christian Adams that highlights a recent example of the politics of favoritism.  A payout of $4.6 billion to American Indians and black farmers to settle race discrimination claims was shepherded through by a political appointee within the Department of Justice.  Mr. Adams quit his job at DOJ in protest of this kind of activity, and he provides an insider's view of how an organization dedicated to promoting "equal justice for all" has strayed from that mission in its quest to advance identity group politics.

UPDATE 7/9/2012:
Matthew Mitchell with the Mercatus Center at George Washington University has a good background on the economic consequences of government favoritism.

UPDATE 7/20/2012:
Kimberley Strassel has an article in The Wall Street Journal showing where there is political favoritism, there is also political unfavoritism.

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1 comment:

  1. Read my new post on Healthcare. You may find we have common ground.